Not a day seems to go by that I don’t hear from an angry car rental customer — folks like Craig Solomon, who rented a car in England from Avis for two weeks recently.

“Toward the end of the rental one of the tires blew out,” he says. “It ultimately cost about $500 to replace, and Avis has been unwilling to date to accept the responsibility.”

The way Solomon sees it, Avis should have rented him a car with good tires. He wasn’t taking the vehicle off-roading, and had driven it safely and never gotten so much as a parking ticket.

“The repairman wrote onto the service receipt that the tire was punctured due to very low tread showing, and he told me Avis would try to charge me, but that it was definitely not my fault,” he says. “I also took photos of the tire.”

The way Avis saw it, the tire blew out while he was renting it, and it was his responsibility. End of story.

Solomon’s case, and the many others like it, all have something in common: They narrate a bigger story of an industry that can’t seem to figure out how to make money honestly, and the silly things they decide to do to line their pockets. Those include sneaky surcharges and fees, bogus damage claims and duping drivers into signing contracts for services they didn’t want or need.

It’s over

Avis is right about one thing, though. This is the end of the story – at least it is for me. This column, which has been appearing on Frommers.com every Monday for the last two years and on this site every Tuesday, is signing off at the end of the year.

Frommers is under new ownership, and even though our ratings are pretty decent, the new bosses are taking this site in a new direction.

I wish them well.

What would you do if you were given one month to live? If you said, ‘Tell the world about the travel industry’s most ridiculous things!’ then give yourself a brownie point.

That’s exactly what I’m gonna do.

Starting now, with rental cars.

You don’t have to work in the car rental industry to figure out the problems really fast. Renters like you and me are unwilling to pay high rates. So car rental companies quote you a low “base” rate and then slowly add to it, piling on taxes and mandatory fees, and then try to “upsell” you on optional fuel-purchase and insurance. In order to squeeze even more profit, car renters allege that companies try to fool them into signing contracts in which they agree to buy optional insurance. And, like Solomon, they go after every damage claim – even the ones for which renters aren’t responsible.

Ridiculous? You bet.

Repairing car rentals

There are three fixes. Let’s start with the one for Solomon: I contacted Avis on his behalf and said, “Really?” Avis reviewed the correspondence and photos and said, “No, not really,” and it refunded the $500 he paid to have the tire fixed.

Honestly, it could have been much worse. If the tires were bald, as Solomon claims, then he could have been in a serious accident, and then Avis would be dealing with a much bigger problem than an invoice for a new tire. I’m talking hospital bills and lawsuits.

But I digress.

Solution number two: Customers, practice a little defensive driving when you rent your car. Read every contract. Make sure your insurance is in order, by which I mean, check your credit card coverage and your car insurance to make sure that if something happens to your car, you won’t be responsible for the bill. Take pictures of the vehicle, pre- and post-rental.

The car rental industry needs to get its act together, too.

You can’t build a business on fees and false damage claims. In the short-term, maybe. But over the long term, your customers will walk away, no matter how “low” your base rates are or how aggressive your promotions are. Some forward-looking car rental companies already know this. But most are in denial.

And frankly, I’m offended by the car rental industry’s business model, and you should be, too.

How stupid do they think we are? Eventually, every state attorney general and legislature is going to clamp down on these questionable practices. No amount of lobbying and influence can turn back this tide of angry renters.

It’s only a matter of time.

Do car rental companies need to come up with a better way to make money?

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